LST 794 at Guadalcanal

The LST 794 was at Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, in January / February 1945.  George Gross writes:

Guadalcanal saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the war. It is only a tiny speck in the South Pacific Solomon Islands, but was the site of huge battleship and cruiser conflicts. Almost every night the Japanese would run a fleet into the small space between Guadalcanal and Florida Island, and engage in heavy-duty gunfire with our side. The space between the islands was known as The Slot and the Japanese flotilla was known as the Tokyo Express. The damages to ships and deaths to the Marines and the Navy were horrific. Merchant ships, including the Kyusyu Maru, were left on the beach as wrecks.

It is ironic that a site of such blood and destruction provided some of the happiest times for the 794. After we left Pearl Harbor we knew we were headed for invasion duty. It turned out that we were too late for Iwo Jima and too early for Okinawa. So while we waited for Okinawa we were granted a two-month stopover in Guadalcanal. It turned out to be a tropical vacation at government expense. The Marines had occupation duty, but all the fighting was over, except perhaps for some Japs who were dug in to holes.

Our duty was to provide a sort of ferry service from Savo Island (no bigger than Martha’s Vineyard) to a beach on Guadalcanal called Tassafaronga. I don’t think the trip from Savo to Tassafaronga took more than four hours.

Every few days we would deliver some jeeps and supplies for the Marine Commander who was headquartered on Savo. When we got to the beach we would go ashore to play baseball. Our captain made sure our ferry duty didn’t interfere with our vacation. If a trip were requested which would interfere with our swim party, he would just say he couldn’t make it because we were making engine repairs. And he didn’t provide any of our crew for the loading and unloading, which I think ticked off the Marine Commander. The captain’s position was that we were a ferry service, not a stevedore service.

Swimming off the bow rampOur Carpenters Mate had made an aquaplane (This was before water skis had been invented.) which we took turns riding, with one of our LCVP’s providing the power. The coxswain (probably Grover Thompson), of course, would try to spill us off with speed and sharp turns. But even when we did fall off, it was great fun to swim in the warm, crystal clear, tropical water and look down at the coral formations.

What about sharks? We posted a gunners mate with a rifle in a 40mm gun tub.

While we were still in San Diego loading supplies, someone had the foresight to trade a few cases of beer to the Marines for a battered jeep. It was no trick for our black gang to get it in shape. The trade paid off in Guadalcanal. We painted the jeep white, trimmed it with red stenciled it U.S. Coast Guard in bold blue letters, dressed up in clean uniforms, and went sight seeing. Nobody had the guts to question our presence. We drove through all checkpoints manned by grungy Marines who saluted us sharply.

Evenings we listened to the radio or watched movies on deck under the stars.

The local Marine radio station had a disc jockey with a wry sense of humor. He knew his Marine audience was hot and sweaty, lived in tents surrounded by mud mosquitoes, and had to take atabrin (a synthetic quinine) to prevent malaria. Every evening at six he started his music program with this spiel:

"Welcome to the Atabrin Cocktail Hour, brought to you from beautiful downtown, metropolitan Guadalcanal. The lights are low, the music soft, ice is tinkling in the glasses, beautiful ladies are dressed in evening gowns. Your waiter is ready to take your order for your gourmet dinner."

You probably don’t know, but atabrin turns your skin orange. The more orange you are, the longer you have been on Guadalcanal. And as for ice, those poor orange bastards didn’t have any. Only our LST had ice, ice cream, and steaks from time to time. And when we had a movie on deck we enjoyed the evening breezes.

I think it was while we were at Guadalcanal that we saw a black and white movie that gave us a catch phrase which we used for the entire war. The movie was about some English explorers or plantation owners who were on an Asian rain forest island. When someone went bonkers due to the constant rain, one of the superior Englishmen would say, "There, there old boy, you’ll be all right just as soon as you get acclimatized." We picked up that sentence for use whenever we wanted to put someone in his place. If someone broke out in a case of athlete’s foot, we’d assure him he would be all right just as soon as he got acclimatized.

Don’t forget the fishing. We used the LCVP to go fishing in the channels between tiny islands. Once we went over a giant mantra ray who showed his displeasure by raising his wings up in the air. He was so huge that they came up on both sides of the boat.

All in all, our Guadalcanal vacation was high living. We knew it would only last for a few weeks until we headed for Okinawa. We enjoyed it while we could because who knew how much longer we had to live?

What a bargain. Eight weeks in Guadalcanal today would cost thousands of dollars.

The Wreck of the Kyusyu Maru

Kyusyu Maru  Thumbnai - Click for full imageMy Dad had this photograph of the wrecked Japanese freighter the Kyusyu Maru.  The Kyusyu Maru (disp 8,666 ton;  length 467 ft.;  width 62 ft.) was a twin screw diesel powered cargo vessel built in 1937 by Mitsubishi for Harada Kisen.  She was requisitioned by the Japanese military for their war effort.  On 15 October 1942, while attempting to land supplies for the Japanese on Guadalcanal, the Kyusyu Maru was attacked and fatally damaged by US planes. The crew ran the vessel aground in an attempt to save the cargo.

Believe it or not, the Kyusyu Maru has her own Web Page !  Now lying about 18 kilometres west of Honiara, she is a popular spot for scuba diving.  (Thanks to Michael McFadyen for the ship's history).

Meet the Local Residents

Solomon Islanders Here are some of the locals that the crew met in the Solomons.

Crew with Red Cross WomenAlmost everywhere we went there were red cross girls who tried to give us stale donuts.  I think the '794 was one of the only LST's that had an experienced pastry chef on board.  We had fresh bread, rolls, and other goodies every day.  We politely declined the donuts, but certainly enjoyed the company! (not certain that this photo is on Guadalcanal, however).

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